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Abraham Lincoln and the Political Campaign Torch 

Make] Projects 

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Abraham Lincoln and the 

Political Campaign Torch 

Written By: William Gurstelle 



Drill (1) 

Fill spout (1) 
for the kerosene 

Fire extinguisher (1) 

Long-handled lighter or fireplace match 

Metal can (1) 


Hex nut (1) 

Cotton rope (1) 
depending on can height 

Wooden dowel (1) 

Kerosene (1) 

Do NOT use alcohol or gasoline. 

Aluminum foil (1) 


Presidential political campaigns were much different in the nineteenth century, and to many 
people, (me included) they sound like much more fun. Instead of ceaseless televised 
debates and commercials, scripted sound bites, and never-ending media analysis, the key 
political tool was the parade. 

While everyone may still love a parade, Americans of 150 years ago, it seems, were 
absolutely enamored of them. Imagine for a moment you're a member of the "Wide Awakes," 
one of many political marching clubs organized to drum up support for political candidates. 
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Abraham Lincoln and the Political Campaign Torch 

Since marching is what you do, you and your fellow Wide Awakes do it often and are very 
good at it. Everyone in the group (and there are thousands) owns a torch. Your torch — a 
new gimbal-mounted, nickel-plated tin torch in the shape of a Union Army musket — is 
particularly eye-catching. 

When an evening march is organized on behalf of your presidential candidate, Abraham 
Lincoln, your club takes to the streets, waving torches with pride and artistry, even using 
them in the manner of rifles, presenting a display of close order drill to the crowds lining the 
streets. It's very exciting. 

Mr. Lincoln himself rarely attended actual parades, because at the time, candidates did not 
campaign personally. They stayed home and let others make speeches on their behalf. But 
on Aug. 8, 1860, Lincoln did participate in a rally near his home in Springfield, Illinois. He 
was mobbed by an enthusiastic crowd and was lucky not to have been injured. 

These parades often lasted two to three hours. The costumed or uniformed participants sang 
campaign songs and shouted slogans as they marched. To satisfy the need for parade 
torches, scores of small manufacturing companies sprang up across the United States to 
fabricate them. Their factories ran at full steam, stamping out hundreds of thousands of 
unusually shaped torches — from rifle lookalikes for the aforementioned close order drill 
ceremonies, to torches built in the shape of faces, animals, capital letters ("L" for Lincoln), 
hats, pinecones, brooms, and pick axes. 

Night after night, all over the country, people marched by torchlight, hoping the bright lights 
held aloft would awaken sympathetic feelings in onlookers and carry their candidate to 
victory. But the era of such campaigning tactics was soon to wane. In the 1860s and 1870s, 
strategies such as parades were the best way to reach people of all social status. However, 
as literacy rates rose and newspapers became less politically biased (at least overtly) 
political campaigning became less spectacular and more educational. By 1900, the 
importance and frequency of the torchlight parade declined dramatically, and the torch- 
manufacturing industry slid into a steep decline from which it never recovered. 

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Abraham Lincoln and the Political Campaign Torch 

Step 1 — How to make a parade torch. 

• Drill a 5/8" hole centered in the lid 
of the clean metal can. 

Step 2 

• Using JB Weld or other high- 
temperature epoxy, make a wick 
collar by gluing the hex nut over 
the hole, as shown. 

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Abraham Lincoln 

and the Political Campaign 


Step 3 

• Using high-temperature epoxy, glue 
the can to the wooden dowel. Let 
the epoxy harden before continuing 
to Step 4. Check label directions 
for curing time. 

• If desired, you can whittle 
down the other end of the 
dowel to a point so the torch can be 
staked in the ground in your 


Step 4 

• Trim the rope to fit the can and 
insert it through the hex nut so that 
1/2" of rope sticks out of the lid. It 
should fit snugly. 

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Abraham Lincoln 

and the Political Campaign 


Step 5 


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• Wrap the can with aluminum foil or 
high-temperature aluminum tape, 
forming a skirt around the can. 

Step 6 — Using the Torch. 

; *1 

• Outdoors, fill the can one-quarter to 
one-third full with kerosene, using a 
fill spout. 

• Make sure the lid is pressed down 
securely or screwed tightly after 
filling, with a 1/2" wick of rope 
sticking out. 

• Let the rope wick draw kerosene 
up. After 1-2 minutes, light the 
wick using a long-handled lighter or 
fireplace match. 

Keep safety in mind. 

Use only outdoors. Kerosene is not as flammable as gasoline but extreme caution is still required. It must be stored in an 
approved container. Keep a fire extinguisher handy. Use extreme caution when lighting, handling, filling, or holding the torch. 
Never fill the torch while hot. Check often to make sure the can is securely attached to the dowel. Do not hold the torch too 
much off vertical or it might drip kerosene. 

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Abraham Lincoln and the Political Campaign Torch 

This project first appeared in MAKE Volume 33 , page 142. 

This document was last generated on 201 3-01 -30 03:21 :52 PM. 

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